Judge Death. First published in progs 149-151 in 1980 in black and white. Republished multiple times including a full colour reprint.
Writer: John Wagner
Artist: Brian Bolland
When 2000 AD writer John Wagner, and artist Brian Bolland, created Judge Death for the super villain’s debut story, you have to wonder if they knew what they had on their hands. 2000 AD had already been going for three years and Judge Dredd had quickly become the publication’s star attraction. Indeed, you could say that Dredd himself is better known than the comic itself what with him being featured in two Hollywood films. The lawman had already established himself and had faced off against many notable villains but did they know that they had created the Green Goblin to his Spider-Man, the General Zod to his Superman? Who knows?
What we do know is that Death, and his cohorts, are still going strong and that is thanks to Judge Death, the three-part story that ran from progs 149 to 151. It was a great story and one that introduced the character in a dramatic fashion, explaining the zeal he had for dispensing death/justice (delete as applicable) and highlighting the methods that he and his Dark Judges had for executing their sentences.
Obviously, this is a classic. It has spawned over thirty follow-on stories or appearances featuring Judge Death and that is mainly down to how different and dark the story is. While definitely a different character to Dredd, there are parallels to the characters. They both place the law above everything else but their definition of it differs wildly.
The story is relatively short, just 15 pages, but so iconic and crucial to Dredd’s story. It also introduced Judge Anderson, no minor character herself in 2000 AD history. Bolland’s art is superlative too. It’s in that classic British early ’80s style but does a great job of conveying just how menacing Judge Death is.
Judge Death tells the story of Judge Death arriving in Mega-City One and immediately setting about executing every human being he sees. His victims show signs of being dead for much longer than they have been and so Judge Anderson is put on the case in order to use her psychic abilities to figure out the mystery. In the meantime Death makes his way to The Rabbit Hutch, a nightclub, and start attacking the crowd there.
When Dredd arrives he soon finds out that Death is impossible to kill, being able to evacuate whatever body he is in, and while Dredd would prove to be a thorn in Death’s side for much of his ongoing story, Death realises that perhaps his most dangerous foe is Judge Anderson. He goes on to possess the young Psi-Judge and uses her to find a new host body but the resourceful Anderson is able to communicate with Dredd enough to send him one word, “Boing” the name of a miracle plastic spray.
Dredd confronts Death who immediately re-possesses Anderson but Dredd uses the opportunity to encase Anderson in Boing, trapping Judge Death within.
Trapped in Judge Anderson’s body, which is displayed in the Justice Department’s Hall of Heroes.
Buy it now
Your best bet is Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges which includes this story as well as Judge Death Lives and The Four Dark Judges. The original two stories were black and white but are colourised in this edition and do look better for it.